The truth about...
Why are poorly marked pots such a persistent problem and what can be done to solve it?
What are these pot markers attached to?
Pots on the sea bed. They’re baited traps that lure in prey through a funnel that makes it difficult to escape. Mostly they’re for crab and lobster, but also crayfish, shrimps and cuttlefish.
Who’s laying them?
At one end of the scale, large commercial operators are laying them, sometimes up to 100 at a time. But many are laid by local amateurs for their own purposes.
Where are they laid?
Wherever the fisherman thinks is the best spot to capture the prey. That might be off the beaten track, but in many instances they can be found directly in front of a harbour entrance, in the middle of navigable channels or dotted around a busy headland.
So what’s the issue?
In a word, visibility. The markers can be anything from an old 5-litre plastic can to a high-visibility orange buoy. But even in the latter case, they’re often so small that they get dragged under the surface during fast-flowing or high tides. And at low water, cheap polypropylene rope can sometimes be floating several metres away from the actual marker. In either case, if you accidentally run over one, there is a strong chance of getting the rope tangled around your propellers, disabling the vessel and endangering those on board. The RNLI reported over 295 cases of entanglement in one year and in 2015, a teenager nearly died when the boat he was on flipped while trying to avoid a poorly marked pot in Southampton Water.
Are there further issues?
As well as endangering humans, there is an environmental cost too. If a propeller cuts the rope, the fisherman has no means of recovering his trap so it sits on the sea bed catching fish, which then die and become bait for others in a unending circle of death.
What would help?
Larger high-visibility buoys would be hugely beneficial. A Danbuoy (a buoy with a small pole and flag) would be better still. A strobe light or reflective tape would make a big difference at night, as would lines that sink instead of float. It’s worth noting that many responsible fishermen do mark their pots this way. Sadly, others do not.
Why don’t they mark them more clearly?
Various reasons. Cost is a big one – a small buoy is less expensive than a large one, an old 5-litre can cheaper still. But space is another. Many of operators use small open boats. The larger the marker buoy, the less they can carry. Beyond that, some operators don’t wish to ‘advertise’ their best fishing spots with highly visible buoys.
Presumably there is legislation covering this?
Outside of the national 12-mile fishing limit, regulations are governed by the EU’S stringent Common Fisheries Policy. Closer to land, legislation becomes a little more muddied. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) issues a Marking of Fishing Gear – Advice to Fisherman and Yachtsmen four-page leaflet which calls for (amongst other things) line to be weighted and flags on poles. But the wording is ‘should’ – it’s purely advisory. It also says ‘local regulations should take precedence.’
So there’s no legislation at all for inshore pot markers?
There is legislation. In 2009, the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities called for more bylaw powers, but these mostly surrounded identification, not visibility. Closer inshore, pot markers may fall under the remit of local harbour authorities, which have the power to remove buoys laid in navigable channels like river entrances.
Is anyone attempting to tackle the problem?
The Cruising Association is setting up a petition lobbying the government to act on this issue and the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has been pushing for action for many years. The RYA’S cruising manager Stuart Carruthers told us, “If the solution was easy we would have solved this years ago, but we’ve been thwarted at every turn.” There is certainly a need for regulatory change and over the years, the RYA has engaged with everyone from the MCA and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs through to the fishermen themselves. Meetings with local fishermen in the Solent, for example, engendered some support for better-marked pots, but progress was ultimately thwarted by operators from outside of the area coming into the Solent to lay pots.
Is there anything us boaters can do to help?
If you do get entangled, inform the Coastguard and don’t enter the water to free yourself unless conditions are calm and you’re confident in your ability. Remember that your crew won’t be able to come to your aid as your boat is disabled. Beyond that, please report the event to the RYA using its online forms. Stuart says the biggest obstacle to making progress is verifiable data on the issue to present a robust case for change.
A teenager nearly died when the boat he was on flipped while avoiding a poorly marked pot
Even brightly coloured markers can be hard to spot when dragged beneath the surface by strong tides